‘Tis the season to watch holiday-themed horror, so we here at Arrow in the Head have decided to compile a list of the Best Christmas Horror Movies! All of the films below are, at the very least, set around Christmastime, and some of them take the connection to the holidays further than that. Here are the top 12 horror movies (you know, because of the whole “12 Days of Christmas” thing) that we recommend checking out over the next week:
I COME IN PEACE (1990)
It’s easy to forget that I Come in Peace (a.k.a. Dark Angel) is set around the Christmas holiday, because Christmas is mostly just represented by some set decorations – and you’re distracted from those decorations by all the awesome stuff going on around them. Dolph Lundgren stars as Jack Caine, a Houston detective who doesn’t play by the rules. He’s stuck working with stuffy, suit-wearing FBI agent Larry Smith (Brian Benben), and these two have to put their differences aside to take down a hulking alien (played by Matthias Hues) who tosses razor sharp discs and extracts endorphins from human brains to synthesize a drug he’ll be selling on his home planet. The movie may not be Christmasy enough to watch on December 25th, but it’s definitely December viewing material.
DIAL CODE SANTA CLAUS (1989)
First screened in 1989, director Rene Manzor’s French horror film Dial Code Santa Claus didn’t reach North America until 2018 – at which time genre fans found out that a strange gem of a movie had been kept from them for nearly thirty years. Patrick Floersheim plays a store Santa who’s fired for slapping a child, so he decides to break into his former boss’s home. Unfortunately for him, the boss’s young son Thomas (Alain Lalanne) happens to be a little badass who idolizes Stallone and Schwarzenegger, and the home is a palace with booby-traps and hidden passageways. Although the kid believes the intruder is the real Santa, he doesn’t hold back when trying to protect himself and his elderly grandfather.
ANNA AND THE APOCALYPSE (2017)
A “Christmas zombie outbreak musical” doesn’t sound very appealing, as you might expect it to be packed with terrible comedy and songs that are just as bad, but somehow director John McPhail took the concept and made an excellent movie. Anna and the Apocalypse is a great zombie horror comedy (with some scenes involving the zombies that are legitimately emotionally devastating) that also happens to be packed with awesome songs… a few of which you might even end up listening to between viewings of the movie. This was based on a short by Ryan McHenry, the person behind the “Ryan Gosling Won’t Eat His Cereal” meme. Sadly, McHenry passed away at a much too young age before Anna and the Apocalypse went into production.
One of the most popular movies of the 1980s happens to be a horror movie with a Christmas setting. Director Joe Dante clearly had a lot of fun setting loose an army of little creatures (brought to life with some incredible special effects) in the small, snowbound town of Kingston Falls. These maniacal monsters were accidentally spawned from one of the most adorable fictional creatures ever put on screen, a furry fellow named Gizmo, who helps his buddy Billy (Zach Galligan) try to rid Kingston Falls of his gremlin offspring before they ruin Christmas for everybody. Gremlins is a lot of fun and the special effects are still impressive to this day, nearly forty years later. Even when they’re not fully convincing, they’re still charming.
Produced and co-written by genre regular Alexandre Aja, director Franck Khalfoun’s P2 was a box office failure when it was released in 2007 (that bland title surely didn’t do it any favors) and it still feels like not enough horror fans have seen this one. Wes Bentley and Rachel Nichols turn in great performances in the lead roles, with Bentley playing a parking garage security guard who takes Nichols’ character captive on Christmas Eve, imagining he’ll be spending a romantic night with her. Instead it turns out to be quite an intense night, full of thrills, violence, and bloodshed. If you’ve liked Aja’s other works (Haute Tension, Crawl, etc.), it’s highly recommended that you check out P2 this holiday season.
After delivering an instant genre classic with his Halloween anthology Trick ‘r Treat, director Michael Dougherty set his sights on making a Christmas horror movie. The result was Krampus, which doesn’t seemed to be quite as popular as Trick ‘r Treat but does have its own solid fanbase. The story is about a family that has lost the Christmas spirit being tormented by the demon Krampus and its minions – including masked elves, living gingerbread cookies, a ravenous jack-in-the-box, and violent toys. The movie draws complaints about pacing issues and an unsatisfying ending, but there are a lot of fun ideas in it, and Dougherty assembled an impressive cast that includes Toni Collette, Adam Scott, David Koechner, Allison Tolman, and Conchata Ferrell.
SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT (1984)
Silent Night, Deadly Night stirred up a lot of controversy when it was first released, and protests by parents who were appalled to see a movie about a killer Santa Claus were successful in getting the film pulled from theatres. They couldn’t stop it from achieving cult classic status, though. An out-of-character film for director Charles E. Sellier Jr., the creator of Grizzly Adams, this disturbing slasher is full of bloodshed, bare breasts, and awful people. When young Billy (Robert Brian Wilson) puts on a Santa costume and embarks on a killing spree, you fully understand why this is happening, because we’ve seen him being pushed to the breaking point by one terrible thing after another.
CHRISTMAS EVIL (1980)
It’s odd that people were so shocked and appalled by the idea of Silent Night, Deadly Night when you take into account that it wasn’t the first movie with a killer Santa Claus (or the second). In fact, just four years earlier director Lewis Jackson had brought us a killer Santa movie called Christmas Evil, about a Santa-obsessed man named Harry (Brandon Maggart, father of Fiona Apple) who comes to believe that he is Santa. On Christmas Eve, he drives around delivering gifts to the deserving children, delivering dirt to naughty kids, and murdering adults that have wronged him. This movie may put off some viewers with its slow burn style, but others absolutely love it: John Waters has called Christmas Evil the greatest Christmas movie ever made.
Silent Night, Deadly Night may be the most controversial movie on this list, but Inside (or À l’intérieur) is the most brutal. The debut feature from the French filmmaking duo of Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, Inside is about a mysterious woman (Béatrice Dalle) invading the home of a pregnant widow (Alysson Paradis) on Christmas Eve – and a deeply disturbing bloodbath ensues. Bustillo and Maury don’t show their characters or the viewer any mercy, and there are things in this movie that even massive fans of the horror genre might find off-putting. It’s a great Christmas horror movie, but Inside isn’t exactly a fun one to sit through. Bustillo and Maury got their feature filmmaking career off to a hell of a start.
BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)
Director Bob Clark gifted the world with two Christmas classics over the course of his career, and they couldn’t be more different from each other. One is the family-friendly A Christmas Story from 1983, and the other is 1974’s Black Christmas, a very dark and intensely creepy film about an insane stalker targeting the residents of a sorority house. He torments them with obscene phone calls, and between calls commits murders. There are some laughs to be had while watching Black Christmas, but overall it’s quite grim and Clark brought the story (partially inspired by an urban legend involving a babysitter – you know the one) to the screen in a masterful way. This one of the best horror movies ever made, and it’s worth watching every holiday season. There were remakes in 2006 and 2019, but ’74 remains the best.
A CHRISTMAS HORROR STORY (2015)
Fans of the Halloween-set werewolf film Ginger Snaps are encouraged to check out A Christmas Horror Story because this anthology happens to be set in Bailey Downs, the same small town where Ginger Snaps took place. Directors Brett Sullivan, Grant Harvey, and Steve Hoban were also all involved with the Ginger Snaps trilogy: Sullivan edited the first and directed the second, Harvey was second unit director on the first and directed the third, and Hoban produced all three. With A Christmas Horror Story, they bring us tales of a haunted school, a changeling, Krampus, and zombie elves. In the midst of all this, we also have William Shatner as an alcoholic radio DJ. This may not work as well as Ginger Snaps, but it’s still a good time.
BETTER WATCH OUT (2016)
The less you know about director Chris Peckover’s Better Watch Out before you watch it, the more you’ll get out of it. The film stars Levi Miller as 12-year-old Luke, who has a major crush on his 17-year-old babysitter Ashley (Olivia DeJonge). Ashley is watching Levi one night around Christmas when a masked person toting a shotgun busts in to ruin their night… And things get really crazy from there. This movie has some great, unexpected twists and turns as the story plays out, and every member of the cast (which also includes Ed Oxenbould, Aleks Mikic, Dacre Montgomery, Patrick Warburton, and Virginia Madsen) turns in a terrific performance. Better Watch Out is a pleasantly surprising film that very much deserves Christmastime viewings.
Are these some of the best Christmas horror movies out there? If there’s any you think we missed, sound off below!